Unwritten DMing rules: the use of dice

aia_2

Custom title
Hello, i just wanted to hear the ideas/experiences on some points about what is your though on the use of dice to reach top level of DMing.

1. Do you always keep hidden the dice results? If not, in which circumstances you disclose them?

2. Do you cheat to keep "balance" or "consistency"? Why and in which specific circumstances? Pay attention, please: this question doesn't aim to discuss about adjusting results for railroading purposes.

3. Do you tend to "overthrow" dice so that you have some results in advance? It happens a DM needs to have a result without showing to the players that he rolls the dice... Should you not "overthow", how do you manage to have a "secret roll"?
 

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Yora

Legend
Any time the result of a roll will be immediately obvious to the players, I either roll the dice in the open or let the players make the roll. And I tell the players in advance which number will make something happen.
When it's time to make a random encounter check, I tell the players to roll a d6 or d8 and that they will run into something on a 1.*

I have started to never change a dice roll because the result would be annoying for the players. Because when you choose to ignore some unoleasant rolls, when do you plan to choose having bad things happen to the PCs. When you choose that bad things don't happen, you automatically choose when bad things happen. And rolling dice becomes pointless.
Things that happen to the PCs should happen because of the players' actions and because of random luck. That's when the decisions of the players matter. If things happen the way the GM decides it, then the decisions of the players don't matter anymore.
And then why are we even playing this game?

An exception is the No Stupid rule. When I roll on a random table for monsters for example, and the monster that comes up just really makes no sense for the current area (because I made a mistake when I choose that random table for that area), then I just roll again.
If it's already established that the whole dungeon is warded against undead, but my "Ruined Temple table" shows skeletons, then that result makes no sense. It was my mistake to use the Ruined Temple table, even though there are creatures on it that can't exist in this area.

A very good rule of thumb is: Fudge to fix your own mistakes, not the mostakes of the players. The GM's job is to make the world make sense, not to decide what happens to the PCs.

* This means there can't be randomly encountered NPCs whi spot the party first, hide before being seen, and follow them around until the best moment to come out. (Though you can say the NPCs followed them around for a while and choose to come out now, though it might not be the best moment to do so.) But that is a tradeoff I think is totally worth it.
 

RivetGeekWil

Lead developer Tribes in the Dark
1. Do you always keep hidden the dice results? If not, in which circumstances you disclose them?
Nope.
2. Do you cheat to keep "balance" or "consistency"? Why and in which specific circumstances? Pay attention, please: this question doesn't aim to discuss about adjusting results for railroading purposes.
Nope
3. Do you tend to "overthrow" dice so that you have some results in advance?
Nope.
It happens a DM needs to have a result without showing to the players that he rolls the dice... Should you not "overthow", how do you manage to have a "secret roll"?
I don't ever have any results that I can't show to the players, so this isn't an issue.
 



dragoner

solisrpg.com
Big caveat here is that I roll only when results are interesting, and try to have that be as much as possible. Otherwise in the open with the players cognizant of what the rolls are for, and without "fudging". Sometimes I will get a little tricky like have a player roll perception, and use that result for the table as well.
 

bloodtide

Adventurer
So:

1.About 50/50. I generally don't "hide" rolls, but the players won't know what the roll is for and just see the number.

2.Never. My game has no balance or consistency. I like a disruptive game. I let the dice rolls change anything and everything.

3.I don't really need a "secret" roll, though again the players might not know what a roll is for or the result.
 

pointofyou

Adventurer
I mostly keep the results of the dice I roll secret from the players.

I do not change the results of the dice I roll.

I sometimes roll a bunch of dice and line them up so the players don't know I'm using a die roll for whatever.

I agree with the statement above about ignoring dice results on random tables and suchlike if they're stupid or nonsensical results. And I agree with the statement above about only fixing my mistakes. The players can live with whatever consequences arise from their mistakes.
 

dumdragon

Explorer
I do 99.9% of my rolls out in the open. I do make fake rolls and grin occasionally while pretending to look something up though. 😉
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Hello, i just wanted to hear the ideas/experiences on some points about what is your though on the use of dice to reach top level of DMing.

1. Do you always keep hidden the dice results? If not, in which circumstances you disclose them?
If the players know a roll is getting made (most of them), I roll it in front of them.

Their characters live in the world, and should be able to tell things like "even though the ogre was really sloppy on his attack (a 7), it's immense strength was more than enough to bash through the paladin's armor and wound him". Seeing the dice helps get that information to the players should known from what their characters experience.

If they don't know that, for instance, someone is following them, I'll roll the stealth check secretly just not to let them know about the check.

2. Do you cheat to keep "balance" or "consistency"? Why and in which specific circumstances? Pay attention, please: this question doesn't aim to discuss about adjusting results for railroading purposes.
The DM shoudn't cheat. Ever. That said, some games like D&D grant the DM authority to do things that would be cheating in other games, like a Powered by the Apocalypse game that have very defined rules for the GM.

In a game like D&D, I will occasionally fudge, though usually something besides the dice. For instance, if the last monster in a combat gets hit and gets left with 1-2 HPs and there's no tension or realistic attrition* they could cause, I'll say the blow killed them. Pacing is more important than extending an already done-deal combat that has nop tension left in it. (Realistic attrition - if they go next and have something meaningful they can do, I'll keep them around.) Same as when a PC got a crit against their nemesis that left them with 4 HPs - you know what it's a better story to tell how you finished off your nemesis with a crit then some other PC dribbles in that last damage. Neither of these would change outcomes.

And there are legitimate decisions a DM can make that aren't cheating but will affect the outcome. For example they can decide how fast reinforcements arrive. A good way to keep a combat with high tension without haivng it either drag or become too overwhelming. (Only moderately overwhelming, so that the chgaracter have something dramatic to hope to overcome.) But not to save characters from themselves - if the PCs let the guards ring a gong they know they need to leave post haste if they don't want to handle every guard in the area showing up.

3. Do you tend to "overthrow" dice so that you have some results in advance? It happens a DM needs to have a result without showing to the players that he rolls the dice... Should you not "overthow", how do you manage to have a "secret roll"?
I roll dice secretly whenever I want. Sometimes it has meaning, like the instance above were someone is following them. Sometimes it's just me rolling a die for no reason.

I've seen DMs pre-roll a bunch of 20s. It's fine, though personally I feel I might be swayed knowing what numbers are coming up. I've seen GMs with a silent die roller on their phone so they can roll secretly without being obvious. Whatever works for you.
 

pemerton

Legend
For instance, if the last monster in a combat gets hit and gets left with 1-2 HPs and there's no tension or realistic attrition* they could cause, I'll say the blow killed them.
My preference here is to taunt the players! Though I'm thinking mostly of 4e D&D here, where there generally is tension and/or attrition.
 

aco175

Legend
I roll on the table in front of me, but not behind a screen. I do not think the players can see much of what is rolled unless it bounces to the middle of the table. I might cheat a hit when adding the monster 'to hit' to the dice roll where the monster rolled a 10 with +7 to hit and I know the PC has a 17 AC but ask if a 16 hits. The players like to be missed by one and think the +1 on the magic shield or the new armor they just bought.

I might also cheat on the HP of the monster and have them die if the are going to and likely the last opponent or I might keep a boss alive one more round to make things a bit more dramatic.

I tend to have monster crits only add one more die instead of double and I have players roll more dice than most. I have them make saves for monsters when hitting them with spells and I have them roll damage on themselves. Some is to speed up combat so I can move onto the next thing and some to have their fate in their hands more.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Hello, i just wanted to hear the ideas/experiences on some points about what is your though on the use of dice to reach top level of DMing.

1. Do you always keep hidden the dice results? If not, in which circumstances you disclose them?
Usually they're hidden, but if there's a big-deal roll where the results will be immediately obvious e.g. a BBEG has to make a save-or-die, I'll do it on the table.
2. Do you cheat to keep "balance" or "consistency"? Why and in which specific circumstances? Pay attention, please: this question doesn't aim to discuss about adjusting results for railroading purposes.
Almost never; and what's the difference between adjusting for balance and adjusting for railroading?
3. Do you tend to "overthrow" dice so that you have some results in advance? It happens a DM needs to have a result without showing to the players that he rolls the dice... Should you not "overthow", how do you manage to have a "secret roll"?
I roll dice when I don't need to and ignore the results, which serves to hide the roll I really mean to make.

I do the same to the players. Just tonight, for example, I needed saving throws from three party members out of six but as nobody knew anything about anything yet (they'd unknowingly picked up a slow-manifesting curse) I had all six characters roll without saying why, and only noted down the three that mattered.
 


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
1. Do you always keep hidden the dice results? If not, in which circumstances you disclose them?

It hardly matters - in the gaming layouts I use most often, either the players are too far away to read my dice, or are so close I have to use a screen to hide my notes, and rolling where the players could see is beyond awkward.

I disclose dice rolls when they are remarkable - When I'm getting multiple crits or horrendous failures in a row, I show them off.

2. Do you cheat to keep "balance" or "consistency"? Why and in which specific circumstances? Pay attention, please: this question doesn't aim to discuss about adjusting results for railroading purposes.

I inform my players in Session Zero if I reserve the right to fudge, and do not proceed with doing so unless they are okay with it.

I generally do so only for balance reasons - when my encounter is seriously over-performing, either because I missed something when designing it, or because my dice are much hotter than expected, and that is clearly having a negative impact on my players.

This rarely happens. My poor dice luck behind the screen is notorious with my group.

3. Do you tend to "overthrow" dice so that you have some results in advance? It happens a DM needs to have a result without showing to the players that he rolls the dice... Should you not "overthow", how do you manage to have a "secret roll"?

When I realize ahead of time, I roll dice before play, and have a list of numbers I can check off as I need This winds up a common tool for me in stealth scenarios, or other times in which the players wouldn't be expected to know there is action out of sight.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
Hello, i just wanted to hear the ideas/experiences on some points about what is your though on the use of dice to reach top level of DMing.

1. Do you always keep hidden the dice results? If not, in which circumstances you disclose them?

2. Do you cheat to keep "balance" or "consistency"? Why and in which specific circumstances? Pay attention, please: this question doesn't aim to discuss about adjusting results for railroading purposes.

3. Do you tend to "overthrow" dice so that you have some results in advance? It happens a DM needs to have a result without showing to the players that he rolls the dice... Should you not "overthow", how do you manage to have a "secret roll"?
1. No. We play on a virtual tabletop, over Roll20. All of the rolls are made public for everyone to see, even random encounter rolls and stealth checks. There's not really a practical way to hide certain rolls without telegraphing it to the players, so I just don't bother. "Don't blame me, blame the dice" has become a mantra of sorts.

2. Same thing for fudging. On Roll20 there isn't really a way to adjust a dice roll without the players seeing it, so I don't do it. Folks are working on various mods and macros to make this possible, to some success, but I don't trust them enough to try using them at the moment. Instead, I just let the dice fall where they may, and practice my improv.

3. The narrative should overthrow the dice. For me, the game runs best when I have both high and low dice results in mind when I'm writing the adventure. And if the story depends on a certain ability check result being a success in order to advance, I will narrate it as a "good success" and a "bad success." It's...a bit hard to explain. Here's an example:

In my last gaming session, the party had rushed into a burning building to rescue a child, and quickly found that their path forward was blocked by a pile of burning debris. The rogue asked me if their rogue could try to parkour over the pile of debris to get into the next room. Now I know that the party needs to get to the other side of that door one way or another to advance the story, otherwise it's a dead-end...so I tell the player to roll Acrobatics. If the check succeeds, he makes it to the other side unharmed. If the check fails, he still makes it to the other side but takes 1d6 fire damage and catches fire.
 

Celebrim

Legend
1. Do you always keep hidden the dice results?

I usually keep hidden the dice results. I always keep hidden the dice results if disclosing them would provide the player with metagame information that their character would not have. This typically means passive checks like perception checks are hidden - spot, listen, sense motive, - and sometimes things like saving throws or other luck type rolls when the players aren't aware that they are threatened or how they are being threatened.

Most other rolls are hidden but I have no strong reason for doing so other than convenience.

If not, in which circumstances you disclose them?

I always disclose rolls of dramatic importance, such as the BBEG making a save or die roll or the villain making an attack roll where the hit is likely to drop or kill a character.

2. Do you cheat to keep "balance" or "consistency"? Why and in which specific circumstances? Pay attention, please: this question doesn't aim to discuss about adjusting results for railroading purposes.

Very rarely. I consider it a failing on my part if I ever feel the need to cheat as a DM for any reason, and most of the time I do it because I have homebrewed some monster or encounter and I feel it's wrecking the party harder than planned despite the players not making big mistakes. In that case, I'm just as likely though to just knock a few dozen hits points off the monster as I am to fudge the rolls. Most of the time when I fudged a roll, I rued it afterwards so this is something that I have done less and less over time as I get more confidence in my GMing ability and system mastery.

3. Do you tend to "overthrow" dice so that you have some results in advance? It happens a DM needs to have a result without showing to the players that he rolls the dice... Should you not "overthow", how do you manage to have a "secret roll"?

Since most of my rolls are secret, this isn't an issue. I do often throw large numbers of dice at a time in order to quickly resolve mass combats, but I have no need to overthrow in the sense you use it. I do often roll dice when I have no need of results just to keep the players guessing about whether any given throw of the dice has meaning, which serves to hide when I'm rolling for a trap or some other hidden threat.
 

1 - Playing online, it's all in the open. When I was gaming in-person, I rolled behind the screen, but mostly because that's where I was sitting - the screen was there to hide the notes and monster stats. I was worried at first at the switch that players would make different choices based on seeing the modifies the monsters were rolling with, but that proved to be unfounded.

2 - I do not. If there's a balance concern, I'm going to address that outside of dice rolls.

3 - Sometimes I will make certain rolls in advance to save time (like if there's a random table for a certain treasure chest, I see no reason to not do that in advance when I'm jotting down my adventure notes). But not always - sometimes I like to be just as surprised as the players.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
1. No. We play on a virtual tabletop, over Roll20. All of the rolls are made public for everyone to see, even random encounter rolls and stealth checks. There's not really a practical way to hide certain rolls without telegraphing it to the players, so I just don't bother. "Don't blame me, blame the dice" has become a mantra of sorts.
There is a practical way, and that's for the DM to roll physical dice at home rather than rolling on roll20, for rolls the players aren't supposed to see.

That's how our DM does it, anyway.
3. The narrative should overthrow the dice. For me, the game runs best when I have both high and low dice results in mind when I'm writing the adventure. And if the story depends on a certain ability check result being a success in order to advance, I will narrate it as a "good success" and a "bad success." It's...a bit hard to explain. Here's an example:

In my last gaming session, the party had rushed into a burning building to rescue a child, and quickly found that their path forward was blocked by a pile of burning debris. The rogue asked me if their rogue could try to parkour over the pile of debris to get into the next room. Now I know that the party needs to get to the other side of that door one way or another to advance the story, otherwise it's a dead-end...so I tell the player to roll Acrobatics. If the check succeeds, he makes it to the other side unharmed. If the check fails, he still makes it to the other side but takes 1d6 fire damage and catches fire.
The bolded is for me an issue: the story isn't sacred, and if they can't get through the door then the story might just have to take a left turn based on what the players/PCs decide to do next. Maybe the PCs fail outright in rescuing the child. Not their fault - they legitimately tried but couldn't get it done.

If there's a situation where developments depend on their succeeding on a roll*, I'll often have in mind some what-if-they-fail ideas and otherwise just be ready to react to whatever comes next.

* - or in some cases their making a certain decision or choice; for example my group right now is at something of a choice point during some downtime, whether to continue with their current quasi-AP or turn away from it and leave it for others while they do something else (whatever that may be). The story I have in mind wants them to continue the AP; but if they decide to bail on it then so be it, and I'll just have to react and maybe end up abandoning that story arc.
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
There is a practical way, and that's for the DM to roll physical dice at home rather than rolling on roll20, for rolls the players aren't supposed to see.

That's how our DM does it, anyway.
I also run some online stuff via Roll20 and I use primarily physical dice. Most of my players also roll physical dice at their remote locations. I'm not that fussed about trusting people with their rolls.
I'm not doctrinaire about rolling in the open or hiding rolls in either way. I frequently rolled on the table without a screen, but nobody ever audited my rolls or scrutinized them when I was GMing - and, honestly, I'm not sure I'd be too happy if they did. That's a level of gaming paranoia I find unseemly. If you want me to GM, trust me. If you don't trust me, why do you want me to GM?
I'm also not a stickler on the fudging issue. I don't generally take away from PC success or fudge in order to hit or crit. Usually, it's just a question of ignoring a crit if my dice have been unusually hot, leaving out some damage from an extra die or modifier on a hit, failing a saving throw for an NPC because it makes for a better result than continued frustration, ignoring a wandering monster, etc.
 

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